Last season marked the 25th anniversary of the blocked shot as an official statistic in the NCAA. In honor of that milestone, it’s time to look back at the best of the big men who have made their mark on defense at the college level.
Many of the biggest names in post play—Alonzo Mourning, Tim Duncan—have lit up college scoreboards with their shot-swatting numbers. At the same time, many of the country’s best shot blockers have toiled in obscurity for anonymous programs like Alabama A&M or Central Connecticut State.
With 1985-86 being the first season for which official stats are available, this list is necessarily heavy on recent players. However, a couple of particularly noteworthy pre-1985 players have been added as representatives of the many great earlier big men.
Read on for a look at the 25 college players who have given opponents the most reasons to stay out of the paint.
Remarkably not even the best shot blocker in Wyoming history, Justin Williams nevertheless earns a spot in the NCAA pantheon. In 2005-06, he blocked 163 shots (15th-best all-time) for a 5.43 average (ninth-best).
Despite posting an average of 4.21 blocks for his college career, the 6’10” Williams went undrafted in 2006. After a brief stint in the D-League, he joined the NBA as a King and appeared in 49 games over two seasons for Sacramento and Houston.
Shawn Bradley made the most of his lone season at BYU. The 7’6” center blocked 177 shots, good for seventh in Division I history, while leading the Cougars to the second round of the 1991 NCAA tournament.
Much maligned as an NBA player, Bradley was a mediocre center who had no hope of living up to the No. 2 overall pick Philadelphia spent on him.
He did average 2.5 blocks a game (leading the league once), and his 2,119 career rejections (mostly as a Maverick) are 13th in NBA history.
Ask central casting for a designated shot blocker, and there’s a good chance they’ll send back Hasheem Thabeet. The long-limbed, 7’3”, 263-lb Thabeet averaged 4.17 blocks a game in three collegiate seasons, the 11th-best figure in NCAA history.
Thabeet has averaged just under 11 minutes a game in his two years in the NBA.
Unless he can improve on last year’s abysmal numbers—1.1 points, 1.6 boards and 0.3 blocks a night in 47 games—he may well earn his (as-yet-premature) reputation as an all-time draft bust at No. 2 overall.
A rare one-and-done player at Marshall, Hassan Whiteside made his lone collegiate season count. The 7’0”, 235-lb Whiteside racked up 182 blocks, the fourth-best season total in NCAA history.
Drafted in the second round by the Kings, Whiteside spent much of his first season in the D-League. He did get to sit on the bench for the big club, but played just two minutes in 2010-11.
Tennessee Tech doesn’t have the most imposing basketball tradition, but Lorenzo Coleman did his best to earn the program some respect. The 7’0”, 303-pounder amassed 437 career blocks, 11th on the NCAA’s all-time list.
Coleman, undrafted despite his NBA frame, landed in an early incarnation of the D-League instead (pictured). His 1.5 blocks a game weren’t enough to offset a disappointing rebounding average of 4.5 a night.
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Although George Mikan played his college ball four decades before blocked shots were kept officially, he still had a major impact on subsequent post defenders.
Before the 6’10” Mikan arrived on the scene, it had never occurred to the NCAA that defensive goaltending was even a possibility. Mikan’s dominance under the hoop forced the adoption of the modern rule prohibiting a defender from knocking shots out of the rim or hitting them on the way down.
After marauding through the NCAA with DePaul, Mikan went on to a similarly overpowering Hall of Fame career in the NBA, where he put the then-Minneapolis Lakers on the map with five league championships.
Alvin Jones set an ACC record for freshmen with 141 blocks in 1997-98. The 6'11" center finished his Yellow Jackets career with 425 blocks, good for 14th all-time.
Jones was drafted near the end of Round 2 by Philadelphia, but played just 23 games and recorded only nine career blocks in the NBA.
Calvin Booth wasn’t the most athletic center out there, but he got to his share of shots—and then some—as a Nittany Lion. Booth ranks in the NCAA’s top 20 in both career blocks (428) and average (3.75 per game).
The Wizards took a flyer on the 6’11” Booth in Round 2 of the 1999 draft, but injuries would cripple his NBA career. Booth (pictured with the Mavs) played more than 55 games in a season only once in 10 years, though he did average as many as 2.0 blocks a night.
As good as Mickell Gladness was over the course of his three seasons at Alabama A&M, it’s his junior year that earns him his place on this list.
Gladness recorded 188 blocks (third-best all-time for a season) and set a Division I record with 16 blocks in a game against Texas Southern.
Gladness has spent both of his professional seasons in the D-League, split between Rio Grande Valley and Dakota. He averaged 1.5 blocks a game last year, but only 4.9 points.
In college as in the pros, Theo Ratliff was nothing special as either a scorer or a rebounder. As a shot-blocker, though, the 6’10” center has been hard to beat, finishing in the top 20 all-time in both total blocks (425) and average per game (3.83).
Few players in NBA history have gotten as much mileage out of one skill as Ratliff has.
In 16 seasons and counting, he’s played for nine different teams, but he’s still getting work (10 games as a Laker last year) because of the skills that have helped him lead the league in blocks per game three different times.
At 7’1”, 300 lbs, Jerome James was as physically imposing as any player in MEAC history. He put up numbers to match, averaging 4.48 blocks a game (seventh-best all-time) over his three seasons as a Rattler.
The lumbering James lasted nine seasons in the NBA, starting about half of his career games but never playing more than 16.9 minutes a night.
He turned in one of the worst seasons for any starting center ever—4.9 points and 3.0 rebounds a game, only slightly offset by his 1.4-block average—as a Sonic in 2004-05.
Tarvis Williams blocked 452 shots—sixth in Division I history—at Hampton, but it was a shot he made that cemented his place in NCAA tournament lore.
The 6’9” center powered home a bucket in the lane with under 10 seconds remaining to cap the No. 15-seeded Pirates’ upset of No. 2 seed Iowa State (led by Marcus Fizer and Jamaal Tinsley) in 2001.
Williams’ unremarkable height helped keep him from being drafted by or playing in the NBA. He’s currently playing overseas.
One of surprisingly few players on this list to earn a national title, Emeka Okafor led UConn to the 2004 NCAA championship with his rebounding and (especially) defense. His 441 blocks are the 10th-best total in Division I history.
Although suspect offense has hampered his pro career, Okafor has averaged 1.8 blocks a night over seven seasons and counting with the Bobcats and Hornets.
In three years at LSU, Shaquille O’Neal was impressive but not history-making as a scorer and rebounder (21.6 points, 13.5 boards a game for his career), but his defensive performance provided a better indication of his future greatness.
Shaq’s shot-blocking skills helped him tie the NCAA record with six career triple-doubles, and his 4.58 blocks a game for his college career are sixth-best all-time.
O’Neal’s scoring and rebounding got more press during his soon-to-be Hall of Fame career, but he was a more-than-impressive shot blocker at the NBA level as well. He averaged 2.3 rejections a night over his career, and his 2,732 blocks are seventh in NBA history.
Despite his 6’11” frame, Ken Johnson didn’t average double figures in points until his senior season at Ohio State. He did just fine on defense, though, blocking a Big Ten-record 444 shots (seventh-best in NCAA history).
Johnson was drafted by the Heat as a second-rounder, but played only 16 thoroughly ineffective NBA games. He did go on to play two full seasons in the D-League, where he averaged 2.4 blocks a game.
Fairfield basketball doesn’t usually attract much notice, but Deng Gai did all he could to put the school in the spotlight. A cousin of current Chicago Bull Luol Deng, Gai finished his college career in the all-time top 10 for Division I in both total blocks (442) and blocks per game (4.42).
At 6’9”, 250 lbs, Gai didn’t have the elite size of many top college shot blockers. He signed as a free agent with the Sixers, but played just five NBA minutes.
In a career split between Duquesne and Northeastern, Shawn James blocked 443 shots, eighth-best in NCAA history. At Northeastern, though, James made an even bigger mark, setting the all-time Division I record by averaging 6.53 blocks per game for the 2005-06 season.
James, who was among the Duquesne players injured in the 2006 shooting incident on that campus, went undrafted and never played in the NBA. He’s currently playing overseas.
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Few schools have turned out NBA centers like Georgetown has, and no Hoya has matched the shot-blocking numbers of Alonzo Mourning. The 6’10” Mourning is fifth in NCAA history with 453 blocks, and he has two of the top 20 single-season rejection totals.
Twice an NBA blocks leader with the Heat, Mourning turned back 2,356 shots in his 15 seasons. His average of 2.8 blocks per game for his career is the sixth-highest in NBA history.
One of the tallest and thinnest players the college game has ever seen, 7’3”, 212-lb Keith Closs used his length to control the lane for Central Connecticut State. Closs set an NCAA record by averaging 5.87 blocks per game over his two-year career in New Britain.
As a pro, Closs blocked 1.3 shots a game over three seasons with the Clippers. Unfortunately for both him and his team, his other numbers (including averages of 3.9 points and 2.9 boards a night) weren’t enough to keep him on the floor or in the league.
Before Tim Duncan developed the offensive arsenal that would make him an NBA superstar, his defense earned him immediate playing time as a freshman at Wake Forest.
He blocked at least 100 shots in all four of his college seasons, finishing with the fourth-highest total (481) in NCAA history.
Even at age 34, Duncan blocked 2.4 shots a game last season. With Shaq’s retirement, he becomes the active leader with 2,381 career rejections.
As great as Bill Russell’s numbers from San Francisco already are, his block totals would have made his career even more remarkable.
The 6’9” Russell, who averaged 20 points and 20 rebounds for his college career—a feat only four other players have accomplished—was one of the most stifling interior defenders in the history of the sport.
Renowned for his ability to control his own blocks rather than knocking the ball out of bounds, Russell anchored a pair of national championship teams for the Dons in 1955-56. As a pro, of course, he would go on to win a record 11 championships in a Hall of Fame career with the Celtics.
The tiny Southland Conference isn’t usually a good place to look for top-tier big men, but Wojciech Myrda proved to be an exception. The 7’2” Pole broke Adonal Foyle’s career record with 535 blocks in his four years, averaging 4.66 rejections a night (fourth-best all-time).
Despite his size, Myrda never averaged more than 11.5 points a game in college. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he went undrafted and never played in the NBA.
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Mississippi State’s 6’9” Jarvis Varnado isn’t going to be mistaken for Shaquille O’Neal anytime soon, but he did eclipse O’Neal’s SEC record of 412 career blocks.
That was just the beginning for Varnado, who finished his career with the Division I record by rejecting 564 shots in his four years.
Drafted by the Heat as a second-rounder in the spring of 2010, Varnado failed to make the roster after LeBron James and the rest of the free-agent horde arrived. He’s currently playing overseas, but Miami still owns his rights if he takes another shot at the NBA.
A decade after David Robinson set the standard, Adonal Foyle rewrote the NCAA record books for shot blocking. The 6’10” Foyle graduated with the all-time record for blocks (492, now good for third place) and the second-best average per game (5.66) in NCAA history.
Despite questions about the level of competition he’d faced at Colgate, the Warriors grabbed Foyle with the No. 8 overall pick in 1997.
He didn’t play well enough to live up to that billing, but he did average 2.0 blocks or better in four different seasons in Golden State.
In the first season in which blocks were kept as a statistic, David Robinson set a record that has yet to be broken with 207 rejections in a season.
Even though he was a junior by the time the stat was recorded, he still finished with 351 blocks, averaging 5.24 per game (third-best all-time).
As a Spur, Robinson finished in the top 10 in the league in blocks every full season he played until he turned 36. His 2,954 career rejections are fifth in NBA history.